Buyer Beware!

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QUESTION: As the public works purchasing employee for our county, I’ve had salespeople assure me that a product is ADA compliant, but then when I attended one of your trainings I found out that what I’ve purchased is not compliant. How do I protect myself from this? — Gary, South Carolina

ANSWER: Gary, you have really hit a sore spot for me. The most discouraging part of my consulting work is that I find endless purchasing errors because buyers believed salespeople who wrongly said they’re selling ADA-compliant products. Many of my Americans with Disabilities Act training sessions about product installations are labeled “DESIGN, LOCATION, DESIGN” or “LOCATION, DESIGN, LOCATION,” the reason being those two considerations are essential to ensure ADA compliance and true accessibility for everyone.

To help you, this article addresses product DESIGN. Next time, I will discuss LOCATION. By the way, cost is rarely the reason for making the wrong purchasing decisions. Before either buying or installing products, you must do your homework.

Ask questions and verify answers
When a salesperson says a product is ADA-compliant, ask that person show you the section in the ADA Standards that relates to the product. Then compare the actual guideline for using the product to the regulations.

EXAMPLE: Look carefully at the following images (click links) of the towel dispenser. This dispenser has instructions to pull out the towel with two hands, automatically making it non-ADA complaint. This picture has the same type of dispenser but without the “pull with two hands” instructions, which makes it ADA-compliant. Why? Because the ADA clearly states that the machines must be operable with one hand. Both 1994 and 2010 Standards require one-hand usage:

1994 ADAAG4.27.4 Operation. Controls and operating mechanisms shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate controls shall be no greater than 5 lbf (22.2 N).
2010 ADA 309.4 Operation. Operable parts shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.

Soap dispensers are also a problem since all-too-often they need two-hand operation. A dispenser that’s attached to the lavatory requires two hands. One hand pushes down the dispenser while the other hand catches the soap. If you replace this fixture with an auto dispenser in the same location (see image), thereby maintaining the clean esthetics of the design, you’ll achieve ADA compliance and ease of use for everyone.

Don’t replace what’s good with something that’s not
This dispenser was installed in a new facility, and matched the construction perfectly. Later, a salesperson convinced the operations manager that the dispenser on the right was better. The replacement dispenser requires a pull-down lever to push out the towel, which often needs a greater than 5-lb force to pull down the lever. Also, it stands out like a sore thumb. Meanwhile, good money that could have been used elsewhere was wasted here.

Another example of poor changes is shown here. The tissue dispenser, which was excellent, was replaced with the difficult-to-use dispenser installed too high at an impossible location.

I have endless examples like this that I show in my trainings. There just isn’t enough space for them in this article!

Beware of scare tactics
Watch out for salespeople who misuse or misrepresent ADA regulations or suggested requirements to scare the buyer. I’ve received phone calls from agencies in all areas of the United States concerning claims by salespeople presenting software to track the condition of public rights of way (PROW). I support such software, whether it is for facilities or public rights of way. I do not, however, support innuendoes that the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) required a submitted complete PROW transition plan by the end of 2012.

When such sales tactics are used, once again tell the individual to prove the claim by showing the written regulation or the letter from the DOJ or FHWA. The burden rests on the salesperson’s back, not yours, to prove the statement. Then feel free to double-check by contacting both or either federal agency, or by finding and downloading the regulations or letter from the agencies’ websites.

Remember, the salesperson’s job is to make money by selling their company’s products. Your job is to maintain compliance with codes, and to think twice before letting a salesperson talk you into changing out your equipment with products they’re pushing.

I’d like to close this by saying that I have been in sales positions. I am not judging salespeople. There are some, however, who use less-than-desirable techniques to sell their products.

Best wishes and feel free to contact me if you have further questions.


Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: gputman | Time: 5:30 PM Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    Michele Ohmes, You are very correct in your response. However, since FHWA and Access Board are federal agencies they are slow to get new devices and tools to help the ADA through their reviews and approve them for use. As an example, I chair the technical committee on Temporary Traffic Control Devices for the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. For eight years my committee and members of the ATSSA group have worked at the direction of the Access Board and FHWA staffs to develop pedestrian barricades for the ADA community. Several workshop have been held with NCUTCD, ATSSA, Access-Board,FHWA, ADA and Blind Community members to develop barricades that can be used by the ADA citizens. The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices approved by unanimous vote the language and drawings on June 22, 2011. These devices are now being made. However due to the red tape that the Access-Board and the FHWA must go through we do not have new guidelines or standard for the public. So the problem that you sight is due to manufactures wanting to make products that will assist the ADA community and they can not due to the Federal red tape that it takes to get something usefull out to the public. Gene Putman, P.E., P.T.O.E. Chair of the Temporary Traffic Control Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

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About the Blogger

Michele Ohmes

thumbnail image Michele S. Ohmes is an Americans with Disabilities Act specialist and wheelchair user who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. Her design manual — ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical — is available on CD-ROM through the American Public Works Association's Web site. Author's note: Michele & Associates does not render legal advice and has no enforcement authority regarding the ADA or other federal disability-rights legislation.